"The principle of holding a public trial is one of the fundamental principles on which a fair process is based. In the absence of a public trial there can be no public scrutiny, and without public scrutiny concerns about miscarriage of justice grow." that is how the basic assumption for a due trial is formulated in Yesh Din's report about the Military Courts in the Occupied Territories "Backyard Proceedings", p 14)
In the beginning of 2005 we began monitoring military courts, where the hearings of Palestinian prisoners take place. In order to have access to these courts we had to turn to the then President of the Military Court of Appeals Colonel Shaul Gordon and apply for a permit to attend court hearings, which was eventually granted to us. But lately we are witnessing attempts by the police investigators of the Jerusalem Police prison on the Russian Compound to keep us out from the hearings on remand extensions for detainees undergoing investigations.
The Shin Bet investigators issue orders denying attorney-client meetings to about 60% of the GSS interrogated suspects, which may remain in effect for up to a month from the date of arrest. When such detainees come before the court in the Russian Compound their attorneys are told to leave the courtroom, and we leave as well. Only when the detainee is taken out of the courtroom, his attorney is allowed in, and we together with him. As a result of this impossibility to defend his client because of lack of knowledge, the attorney and the investigator are involved in an absurd dialogue where the stereotyped answers of the investigator to the questions of the defense lawyer are: "The answer is to be found in the secret file which is presented to the judge". This procedure, unsatisfactory as it is, was maintained until a couple of months ago when all of a sudden the police investigator Yitzhak Yakubov insisted, that we leave the courtroom also during the attorney's presence. Upon our surprised question why he replied that we "publish lies on our website and thus undermine the ongoing investigation".
In the Jerusalem Police Prison we are the only representatives of the public present at the hearings of the remand extension. Family members of the detainees cannot attend, because the Compound is located in Jerusalem and as Palestinians they have no access to Israel. The courtroom is located within a police prison and any unauthorized person has to receive a special permit (which we have). By excluding us, the hearings will be removed from the eyes and ears of any public and the principle of public trial will be overturned.
Our reports of the last months reflect our struggle to uphold the standing of a due trial and the stubborn attempt of the police to circumvent it. The judges, as you can see, play an ambiguous role. Some of them stand up for the principle of a public trial, but unfortunately, the majority surrenders to the demands of the police.
Jerusalem, Mon, 7.7.08, Morning
The police investigator makes his first attempt to interfere with our presence at court. He threatens to remove us from the court if we do not stop taking notes and the judge complies with the investigator's demand.
Jerusalem, Thu, 24.7.08, Morning
The police investigator requests that we leave the courtroom. When we hesitate to do so, he declares the hearing to be conducted "in camera" without any interference of the judge. We have no choice but to leave.
Jerusalem, Mon, 18.8.08, Morning
At the beginning of the session the investigator asks the judge to send us out of the courtroom. The judge refers to the publicity of the court and insists that the investigator will submit the reasons for his demand in writing. Half an hour later, another investigator appears, whispers something into the judge's ear, whereupon the judge succumbs and asks us politely to leave the room.
Jerusalem, Thu, 21.8.08, Morning
We were permitted to attend the hearing only in the presence of attorney Gaby Lasky. Otherwise we were forced out without discussions between the judge and the investigator.
Jerusalem, Mon, 23.02.09, Morning
The judge on duty, Bentsion Shaeffer, overturned a court decision by judge Asher Barack of three weeks ago, who has decided then, that the principle of a public trial is of great importance and that our presence could not harm the investigation process. Judge Schaeffer, on the other hand, told us in very clear terms that as far as he is concerned he will not allow us to stay in court.